Oct 12

Why the Debate about Aborting Down Syndrome Babies Matters

I recently wrote on the Catholic Stand about the wider consequences of the debate around aborting those with Down Syndrome.

Iceland aborts about 98% of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome and averages under 2 babies born with Down’s a year. CBS recently featured Iceland as “the country where Down syndrome is disappearing,” and lauded how they have “virtually eliminate[d] Down syndrome.”

Many pro-life groups quickly shot back that Iceland was boasting of no medical advance to accompany that statistic, only a death option.

Jeanne F. Mancini wrote an op-ed that was picked up by the Washington Post. In it, she pointed out that although the doctors claim they’re killing Down syndrome babies to “prevent suffering”, those with Down’s have a very happy life and rank above average on personal fulfillment. Is that suffering now?

Mancini quotes Sally Phillips, an actress famous for leading roles in several British sketch comedy shows and sitcoms who’s also the mother of a child with Down syndrome. Phillips is proposing we adapt a different perspective on Down’s: “If you stop thinking of Down syndrome as a disease, then the way you treat mothers is entirely different: you perhaps wouldn’t say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Breaking the news with the phrase ‘I’m sorry.’ There’s nothing to be sorry about. You’re lucky, actually.”

Read the rest there.

Sep 27

“Why I am Catholic?” – Bringing the Transcendentals into Apologetics

I wrote a review of “Why I am Catholic?” by Brandon Vogt for Aleteia.

When I was in my teens and 20s I loved apologetics books. I loved learning all these scriptural zingers to hit Protestants with. It made me feel secure in my faith.

But then something changed.

I realized this form of apologetics, while strengthening my own faith, did little to help others. It was just good for arguing, but not necessarily for convincing. It also seemed to miss wide swaths of the population who weren’t hardcore sola scriptura defenders but were vaguely Protestant or more-or-less nothing.

Kreeft and Tacelli’s Handbook of Christian Apologetics helped me see a way to respond to non-Christians. But something still felt incomplete.

Recently, I found the book that gives me completion. Why I Am Catholic, by Brandon Vogt, is the best book on apologetics I’ve read in a long time and one of the few apologetics books I’d feel comfortable sharing with non-Catholics…

Read the rest on Aleteia.

Aug 23

As a Church, we should value new and existing members

I wrote on Crux about the current debate regarding the value of the words of cradle Catholics and converts.

800px-G._K._Chesterton_at_work-690x450One aspect of genius in Catholicism is its universality. Often, we think about this when we consider how the Catholic Church has lasted 2000 years or how it has expanded to almost every corner of the globe. But there is another aspect that can easily be lost: It accepts and brings in many types of people.

Before his conversion, G.K. Chesterton wondered how Christianity could be such a twisted edifice that it included a swashbuckling general like Don Juan of Austria and a pacifist contemplative like St. Bruno, the founder of the Carthusians.

He concludes pointing out how we take in all the extremes: “We want not an amalgam or compromise, but both things at the top of their energy; love and wrath both burning… For orthodox theology has specially insisted that Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God. Now let me trace this notion as I found it.”

Read the rest on Crux.

Jul 08

Applying Six Offline Models to Online Evangelization

I wrote an article on evangelizing online on Homiletic & Pastoral Review about how to evangelize online.

The-Water-of-Life-Discourse-between-Jesus-and-the-Samaritan-Woman-at-the-Well-by-Angelika-KauffmannThe Internet has now opened up as a wide field for our evangelization. Much of the cultural interchange now takes place via such electronic means. The Church is called to step out into every new forum and evangelize it, yet for the online forum what would mainly have is individual examples and not a systematic application of existing offline models into the online world.

As someone who has been involved in this world, I’ve seen a lot of people try, and some of them succeed. I built up a following of 40,000 on Twitter by understanding its dynamics, and realizing in what respects it is the same as, and different from, other methods of human communication. I was always a bit of a tech geek: in the 80s I was writing elementary book reports on an old Turbo XT, and even studied two years of computer engineering before switching to become a Catholic priest. I was into religious stuff online back in the mid to late nineties. I intuitively grasped different ways that people were evangelizing online. But upon recently reading a book on models of evangelization, I find I have a concrete schema to categorize the main ways in which I see this happening.

In The Great Commission, Timothy E. Byerley presents six models of evangelization in American Catholicism. Along with explaining each model, Byerley presents historical examples of each model, and ideas for their application today. However, other than one mention that new technological means of preaching need to be used at the end of the proclamation model, he does not mention evangelizing via the Internet. This essay is an attempt to fill that gap by adapting each of his models online.

Each model will follow the same basic structure: a brief summary of the model, suggestions for how each model can be applied online, and a person or group evangelizing using that model online. Some models are obviously more easily transferred than others—it is a whole lot easier to preach than to distribute meals to the homeless online.

The examples I picked present one way this is being done today, but there are three important caveats: like examples in Byerley’s book, most evangelization mixes these models; I try to show various platforms rather than focusing on one; and I chose examples for clarity of the model, not necessarily the best at that model.

Jun 24

How can we as Church do better on suicide?

I wrote a few ideas on how we can better deal with suicide earlier this week.

web3-depressed-woman-bridge-silhouette-shutterstock_355955540-shutterstockWe might think we’re among the compassionate ones. But are we really?

I was speaking recently to a young woman whose friend had taken her own life. The friend had always been one of those girls with the biggest smile. But one fall she started acting depressed and within a few months the young girl had attempted suicide multiple times, finally succeeding. The family would tell people that their daughter got sick and died, not mentioning the type of sickness.

Back when I was in high school, a friend was hospitalized and put on a 72-hour suicide watch. We had seen him a little off but I couldn’t comprehend how things had gotten that serious. Suicide had always seemed to me like something you read about in books, but not something that might affect me personally.

In the Church, we don’t always talk about suicide and mental health in the best way. Until recently, people who took their own lives were denied a Catholic funeral because suicide (as the taking of a life) is grave matter. But what that old prohibition missed was the degree of freedom in most suicides, or really, the lack thereof.

Read the rest on Aleteia.

Jun 10

Catholicism Often Gets the Short End of the Stick on Both Sides of Academia

I wrote a piece comparing Catholic institutions’ response to dissent vs. secular institutions’ response to Catholicism on Catholic Stand.

studyPaul Griffiths is an expert on Catholic thought, holding the Warren Professor of Catholic thought at Duke Divinity School but this past month he was forced to resign for questioning liberal orthodoxy.

On the other hand, last week, the Newman Society listed nine Catholic colleges who were commencement speakers who disagreed with Catholic teaching. One of these honorees went so far as to say, “New York will not tolerate any impediments or impairments of women’s rights and access to reproductive health care,” while forcing insurance companies to cover contraception and some abortions. Another commencement speaker had a 100% pro-abortion voting record, according to NARAL, during his 14 years in Congress.

Many Catholic Schools Capitulate

Catholic schools also face huge fines and protests if they fire someone for being in a gay marriage while others cave on Catholic teaching to defend their right to hire active homosexuals as staff.

This seems to follow a pattern where Catholic schools capitulate on the basis of academic freedom while secular schools discriminate against Catholicism based on their own orthodox neoliberalism. Classical liberalism is open to various opinions and will be perfectly fine with a professor who taught Catholic thought and believes what the Catholic Church teaches.

Read the rest on the Catholic Stand.

Jun 03

Müller’s defense of ‘Amoris Laeitia’ reads it in Church tradition

Card. Müller came out strongly in support of reading Amoris Laetitia last week so I summarized it and commented.

20170109T0953-7162-CNS-MULLER-DUBIA_800-690x450On Thursday of last week, Cardinal Gerhard Müller continued his defense of an orthodox reading of Amoris Laeitia in the most forceful manner yet in an interview with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo.

Müller, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, has maintained that Amoris Laetitia should be interpreted in line with tradition in interviews published in December 2016 and February 2017. However, this is his most forceful defense.

When asked about the exhortation, Müller immediately goes to the core of what the synods and Amoris were about: “To underline the importance of the marriage and the families and the marriage especially the marriage between baptized persons as the sacrament.”

It is not just about the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried.

Before getting to the main point, the cardinal sets a few preliminaries. First, “It is absolutely impossible that the Pope […] presents a doctrine which is plainly against the words of Jesus Christ.” Second, “The doctrine according to the indissolubility of the matrimony, of the sacramental matrimony is absolutely clear.”

Read the rest over at Crux.

May 27

Overdosing from despair: How the Church can fight the opioid epidemic

An article I wrote a while back was finally published by Crux today.

3964596491_afc04c21e3_b-690x450I recently had a hernia operation and was given a week’s worth of opioid painkillers for afterwards. Recovering from surgery, and dealing with the pain and discomfort inherent in such things, made me think about the current epidemic of addiction to painkillers in the United States, which has led to the highest rate of drug overdoses ever in the country.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, 2015 saw over 50,000 deaths and both 2016 and 2017 are expected to be higher.

In fact, fatal heroin overdoses, which went up five times between 2007 and 2015, surpassed gun homicides for the first time ever.

We as a Church need to speak to people where they are – and obviously drugs, especially opioids responsible for about two-thirds of drug overdose deaths, are now a big part of many people’s lives. So the Church can’t be silent.

One good example of speaking out is the Archdiocese of Vancouver in Canada. Archbishop J. Michael Miller said, “In 2017 Vancouver, Jesus would also identify himself with those afflicted by mental illness and addiction… as His disciples, we are called to do likewise.” One Catholic hospital there treated 42 overdoses in two days!

Read the rest over at Crux.

May 13

A Texas parish keeps faith after a tornado destroys the church

A story I found and covered on Crux.

destroyed-church-690x450Simon Salinas heard that a tornado had destroyed his parish church, and knew he had to help. He was with his sister and her critically ill father-in-law in her home  during the storm, and they hunkered down in the house hallway and prayed.

After the tornado passed, he found out from another sister that the church had been destroyed. About 3 hours after the tornado, he got out to the church in the dark.

Arriving to the parish, he found the driveway surrounded with trees. He saw four cars in the parking lot and worried someone might be inside under the rubble. He was worried about their safety as he traversed downed power lines to look for survivors.

45 people had been attending a dinner for graduating seniors at St John the Evangelist in Emory, Texas. However, they had already been evacuated.

When he found out they were all safe, his thoughts moved to the Eucharist. He said his motivation came from his experience, “God has never abandoned me in my life and we as Catholic Christians, if we truly believe that God exists there, I didn’t want to abandon him. I wanted to at least search for him and that’s just what I did.”

Read the rest there.

May 04

‘Amoris Laetitia’ is about accompaniment, not the divorced and remarried

I reviewed an excellent book on Crux today:

Cattura-3-469x450When I subtitled my summary of Amoris Laetitia on the day it came out “About Every Family, Not Just Divorced and Civilly Remarried,” I knew the Communion issue was going to be the news of the day, but I didn’t expect it to still be an issue in 2017.

I waited for a resource that would help people grasp the other beautiful aspects of the document. I finally found my answer.

Three professors from the John Paul II Institute in Rome have produced a handbook explaining how to apply Amoris Laetitia, which was just published in English.

Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating: A Handbook for the Pastoral Care of the Family According to Amoris Laetitia is by Father Jose Granados, Dr. Stephan Kampowski, and Father Juan Jose Perez-Soba.

They mention the Communion issue, as I noted previously when the Spanish edition was released, but they dedicate less than 10 percent of the book to that issue. Their outline is instead based on the three words of the title: Accompanying, Discerning, Integrating. I will summarize how they examine each of these.

Read the rest on Crux.

Apr 19

Churches shouldn’t endorse candidates, even if the law allowed

In wake of the impending repeal of the Johnson Amendment, the question of Priests or Churches endorsing candidates takes on new light. I present arguments against endorsement on Crux today.

File photo from Jan 20 used with the original article. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

File photo from Jan 20 used with the original article. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

A new tax bill working its way through Congress might change the way religious institutions can engage in politics.

President Donald Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, said, “I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

Now, a little history: The Johnson Amendment was passed in 1954 to prevent nonprofits from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates. It applies to 501(c)3 organizations which include most churches, schools, amateur sports leagues, and works of charity helping the poor or otherwise disadvantaged.

The Republican members of the House of Representatives are now writing Trump’s proposed changes into their big new tax overhaul.

The question arises whether churches should continue to follow Johnson’s rules if it is repealed? I think so.

Churches should stand strong on moral issues, but Church leaders should never endorse specific candidates for political office. The Catholic Church even includes staying out of political parties as a duty for priests in Canon Law (287.2).

John Beal’s commentary on this number in Canon Law notes the contingent nature of politics and how they can never give a fully adequate interpretation of the Gospel as reasons priests should stay at arm’s length from politics.

Beal notes that clerics can be members of political parties but are forbidden to take an active part. Thus, a priest can be a registered voter and vote in primaries but shouldn’t go knocking on doors or put a sign on his lawn.

Even though I come at this from a Catholic perspective, I think the same reasons to stay at arm’s length apply to Protestant ministers, rabbis, and imams.

Read the rest on Crux.

Apr 05

Superficializing Male Friendships

2 Male Friends chatting in winter

Male Friends

Recently, The Federalist published a piece about male-female friendships called “Why Men and Women Can Never Be ‘Just Friends’” which was roundly criticized for its conclusions that male-female friendship is impossible. I got this from several people on Facebook and I don’t see a need to repeat. What gets me though is how it reduces male friendship to one type that is not ideal for many guys: Others critiqued the conclusion, I’m critiquing the premise.

The article summarizes male friendship:

What then, is the average man looking for in a friend? By and large, something along these lines:

  1. Someone who shares his interest in activities such as watching movies where things explode, playing video games where things explode, or putting fireworks in things so they’ll explode. Bonus points if you enjoy yelling at football players through the television set and laughing at noxious flatulence.
  2. Someone who won’t pressure him to open up beyond his comfort level if his girlfriend breaks up with him,he loses his job, or his mom gets eaten by a yeti.
  3. Someone who cherishes the man tradition of showing affection through insults and general jackassery.

Let me look at the guy friends I’ve had and the guy-friend I try to be and compare it to these three characteristics.

  1. I don’t mind explosions but I’d much rather play Settlers of Catan or hike up a mountain than watch a mindless movie filled with explosions. I remember one time we were watching Live Free or Die Hard and one friend got up to read a book after the car took out the helicopter which almost made me do the same (except I hadn’t brought a book that day). Maybe it’s that I spent too much time running youth camps but whenever I see small scale fireworks, my first concern is safety. I know several guys who outright don’t watch any sports, watch any mindless explosion movies, or play any violent video games. We shouldn’t reduce male friendship to exclude them.
  2. The second aspect is true in my experience in that guys want other guys to respect their limits of openness. This is the only one of the three I agree with as characterizing male friendship “by and large.” Nonetheless, it applies to many non-friendship relationships too – starting with coworkers – so friendship has to be more.
  3. Then we get to the last aspect of insulting and “jackassery.” I find this demeaning to men and repugnant. I understand occasional teasing but if the main way of showing affection is this, I’m not being your friend. I know plenty of other guys who seem to agree. The world is tough enough on me that I want to have a friendship where I don’t have this. I understand other guys who enjoy this type of friendship but that is only one type of guy and we shouldn’t reduce all guys to one type.

Beyond the three points individually, if this is how you define male friendship you are missing a whole bunch of areas.

  1. First, this article misses the essential aspect of any friendship in the love of charity. He is missing the very core. Aquinas speaks of this: “Yet neither does well-wishing suffice for friendship, for a certain mutual love is requisite, since friendship is between friend and friend: and this well-wishing is founded on some kind of communication.” Well-wishing is desiring the good for the other. We wish well for all but the specific close communication which allows us to know what is good for this specific person is an important element of friendship. This is the basis of my friendships: because my friends know what is good for me and give it to me.
  2. Second, and related, the author seems to think guys can’t love each other. The article doesn’t have “charity” once and all six times in has “love” it refers to male-female relationships. I love my guy friends. Given that “love” has been reduced to romance int he culture, I’d probably say “have charity” or “seek their good” but there seems to be no phrases of that type about guy-guy friendship. I really feel sorry for this guy if missing this implies he lacks deep guy-friends.
  3. Third, the author totally misses family. In all honesty, my sisters and one brother-in-law are some of my best friends. (I am the only boy with three sisters.)
  4. Fourth, although guy friendships are generally based around common interests and common activities – guys don’t like to sit and chat as much as women – the type of activities and interests can be far more varied than this author assumes. Some of my dad’s best friends are his curling team, a sport with no explosions. When I was in college, I become good friends with a small circle in electrical engineering who programmed and built electronic stuff (if anything exploded, we did it wrong) after class too as we enjoyed it.

I avoid close non-family female-male friendships for other reasons: I don’t want the possible scandal, I don’t always know or trust females’ intentions, and I think it can possibly compromise my heart set on God as a priest (as it can compromise the totality of a man’s heart in marriage). Nonetheless, I can see circumstances where other men might have close female friends. There are prudential reasons to avoid deep male-female friendships but please let’s not redefine male friendship so superficially to do so.

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